iPad mini and 4th-generation iPad: first-impression review

iPad mini and 4th-generation iPad: first-impression review

Summary: With the release of the iPad mini and its updated big brother, the 4th-generation iPad, I just had to pick them up to see if they live up to the hype. Here's my experience so far.

TOPICS: Apple, iOS, iPad

Well, it's that time again: another day, another Apple product release. This time, we've been given an updated iPad (4th-generation iPad, iPad 4, what have you) and a new, miniature iPad, appropriately named the iPad mini. As per usual, I had to go get my hands on them to see what they're about. I've been an avid iPad user since the iPad 2, and by that, I mean I've used my iPad daily for ~70% of the days following my first iPad purchase. So, what's so great about these latest releases? Are they actually worth purchasing for people who already own an iPad? Which one is best, if looking to choose between the two? Is there an answer to the meaning of life?

The story starts with my trip to Best Buy at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday night to pick up whatever models they might have in-store. Interestingly, the only models left were 64GB models of each, so that's what I walked out of the store with. For the viewing pleasure of those interested, here's an unboxing video I made for both models:

When the 3rd-generation iPad was released, I chastised Apple for -- amongst other things -- not providing a 128GB model with which to utilize for large files that might truly take advantage of the resolution of the Retina display -- things like high-res movies and TV shows, high-quality game assets, etc. But with only 64GB models left in the store, perhaps that lends some sort of perspective as to why Apple doesn't yet see the need to provide 128GB models -- which, if/when it does happen, will probably be referred to as "marvelous," "spectacular," "wondrous," or some other buzz word that Apple likes to use in their keynotes.

Anyway, after unboxing these devices, I decided to start with the iPad mini -- an exciting prospect, since I like the idea of a smaller iPad. Upon first turning it on, I immediately noticed the degraded quality of the display. I thought moving from the iPad 2 to the iPad 3 was something to marvel at, but going from the iPad 3 to the iPad mini was an even more drastic (see: atrocious) experience. With almost every single device of Apple's now having a Retina display, the regression for the iPad mini immediately makes it feel like a half-hearted, disingenuous, and greedy effort. Needless to say, this entire page reads like one big lie when comparing the iPad mini's screen to a Retina display.

With that said, the size of the iPad mini does feel a bit better and less awkward than its larger counterpart, but the effect is short-lived. Additionally, I enjoy the placement of the speakers directly in the center on the bottom -- a location where I never find my hand, thus not obfuscating the sound like I sometimes do with the iPad. Someone who could fit this in their pocket book might find this to be more portable than a normal-sized iPad, but that's about it.

Image credit: Stephen Chapman                   iPad mini

Ultimately, the iPad mini is nothing more than a shrunken-down iPad 2; and despite its brand-new release and immaculate sales page, in my hand, it already feels extremely dated, gimmicky, and poised to give Apple's bottom line far more enjoyment than anything it will give its users. It's almost like Apple said, "hey, we have all these old iPad 2 parts that need to be used, so let's put them in something smaller and come up with Apple-esque marketing jargon to convince people they want one!" BOOM: immaculate garbage!

Don't get me wrong, though; the idea of an iPad mini is a good one with plenty of potential, but it's the execution of it in this current form that makes it completely miss the mark: no Retina display, an old processor, no real increase in portability (unless you carry a pocket book), and possibly a headache for developers to have to consider supporting. If you've never owned an iPad, this may be a viable option; just don't look at a single other Apple device around you.

All of this, of course, is in stark contrast to the 4th-generation iPad, which is just as amazing as the 3rd-generation iPad, but not yet worth upgrading to unless you're the owner of an iPad 1 or 2. The 4th-generation iPad comes equipped with Apple's new A6X processor, which is supposedly "up to" twice as fast as the latest A5X processor (which is what's in the 3rd-generation iPad). Unfortunately, typical usage of the 4th-generation iPad doesn't seem to validate that claim, but benchmarks performed elsewhere have shown definitive potential.

I'll tell you, apps do load noticably faster, and there's definitely a speed improvement with Web browsing (page-loading is snappier), but it's not fast enough to justify an upgrade from a 3rd-gen iPad. At all. That may change, however, as developers look to create apps that specifically require the A6X processor. Honestly, you could read my 3rd-gen iPad review and critiques today and they would be mostly on-par for how I feel about the 4th-gen iPad, since it feels like a mere extension of its predecessor at the moment. With that said, I'm still dumbfounded by the under-the-hood specs of the iPad mini, which means that developers are going to have to keep on considering iPad 2 users instead of phasing them out.

Image gallery: iPad mini and 4th-generation iPad

So, do you choose the iPad mini or the 4th-generation iPad? If you don't care about the fact that you're getting old hardware in a new, gimmicky form factor, then the iPad mini may just be for you. Also, if you've never owned an iPad (or any other Apple device with a Retina display), then you won't know what you're missing should you settle on an iPad mini. As for the 4th-gen iPad, I wholeheartedly recommend it over the iPad mini, as well as an upgrade from the iPad 1 or 2. As I noted, there's just no reason at this point to upgrade from a 3rd-gen iPad. Yes, the latest iPad is the most powerful now, but it's like owning a sports car in a town where the speed limit doesn't allow for you to drive it to its full potential (yet). And I'd wager to say it will remain like that for quite awhile, perhaps even until the 5th-gen iPad.

Whatever the case may be, if you're considering an iPad mini, I highly recommend a side-by-side comparison via some hands-on time at either an Apple store or some other retail store near you that sells them. I can see the iPad mini being a good choice for a certain demographic, but having been completely spoiled by the 3rd-generation iPad (and, by extension now, the 4th-gen), contrary to what Apple says on their site, the iPad mini is simply not worthy of being called an iPad. Nor is it worth the price point, plain and simple.

Not to keep flogging a dead horse, but let me finish with this: I shudder at the thought of Apple making a killing on the next iPad mini. You know, the iPad mini this one SHOULD be. But somehow, they'll conjure up typical Apple marketing flimflam to make it seem as though things like a Retina display are only possible after some sort of magic, despite the fact that the technology already exists in form factors larger (MacBook Pro and iPad) and smaller (iPhone and iPod Touch) than the iPad mini. I love my iPad, I like iOS, and I love the form factor of Apple's hardware; however, there's much about Apple that I loathe as a company, and the iPad mini just feels like a money-grubbing facade that anyone with a modicum of concern should see through and avoid. Garbage in, garbage out? One can only hope...

What do you think about the iPad mini and 4th-generation iPad? Have you managed to play with either or purchase either yet? Weigh in your experiences and thoughts below!

See also: Apple's iPad mini doesn't deserve a grand debut

Topics: Apple, iOS, iPad

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • "there's much about Apple that I loathe as a company" -- it is just because

    ... you are ignorant.

    Apple uses IPS screens polysilicon transistor colour filters in iPad mini, and as well as in iPad 3/4 with Retina screen. And it is different subtype of technology to that of phone-sized screens: FFS, which allows more translucent colour filter matrix, but it is too pricey to use in such big screen as in 9.7" iPad (and no one producers bigger than phone-sized displays with FFS technolgy).

    So Apple had to use more typical technology for such size, and it required making iPad 3/4 thicker and heavier than iPad 2 simply because the backlight had to be so much brighter to compensate for dramatically more obstructive interpixel areas, which is not compensated with higher translucency of transistors themselves as with FFS technology that used in phone-sized screens.

    Sharps's IGZO technology finally solves this issue even for bigger screen, but output levels are still low, so Apple was not able to update iPad 4 screen to use of such technology. And of course Apple was not able to use it in iPad mini.

    This means that to make iPad mini with Retina display **right now** Apple had to make much heavier, thicker and pricier device that it wanted it to be. And up to 100 g lesser weight is one of the biggest usability advantage over much smaller screen 7" rivals.

    Apple will update both iPad and iPad mini screens with IGZO technology next year, when production levels will allow that.
    • I iPad 5 to be thinner and lighter than even iPad 2 -- all thanks to IGZO

      ... technology. It could be about 8+ mm thin, and weigh about 550 g.

      iPad mini would get this upgrade without becoming any thicker, heavier and pricier (the penalties that would be unavoidable if Apple decided to make Retina screen right now), again, solely thanks to IGZO technology.
      • Good points...

        "iPad mini would get this upgrade without becoming any thicker, heavier and pricier "

        ...except for the point about price. At $249.00 or even $299.00 your points would make sense. $329.00 for a device that is "technically" no better than the competition except for weight, IMO won't do. I say "technically" because OSes are so subjective. Not saying they won't sell a lot of them, I'm sure they will... but not as many as they planned on selling.
        • By the context of Apple's latest reports, they're selling more

          ... than expected--again. Even the author pointed out that the store he visited was out of every single lower-capacity iPad of both sizes and Apple claims they sold an average of a million iPads each day over the weekend (starting Friday.) If you ask me, they didn't plan on selling as many as they did and the current demand is bearing that opinion out.
          • I'm sure time will tell...

            but are you sure it wasn't just a lower production?
          • Low production has something to do with it...

            This unit HAD to be in stores by christmas to scupper the competition; it was a total spoiler- apple mobile devices tend to be announced about 10 days prior to release... This was announced without even 4g data models availability known. Then they started taking pre-orders on the day windows 8 & rt tablets went on sale; no doubt hoping to grab headlines from their launch about how many pre-orders they got or something silly. Then theres the fact they actually directly compared it to it's competition in their keynote... All salesman tactics.

            However as a device it's not to be disrespected. I'm waiting to decide between a nexus 3g and ipad 4g when they come out. The points made in this article seemed a little silly - it doesn't have retina or A6 because it gets 10 hours wi-fi and starts 200 cheaper than the A5 iphone 4s. The context here is that pixel density is better than the ipad 2 offering the same number of pixels on a smaller screen. The two also had an A4 not an A5 and it's mobile data version lacks both LTE and HSPDA+ for fast data transfer. Plus it costs £60 more.

            I would have liked them to have given it the 5x chip, as the nexus I compare it to gets a 4core snapdragon. A higher screen resolution would have been nice but if it would have affected price/battery life they'd be crazy to do it... I don't know how fussy this reviewers eyes are but when I get an ipad 2 and an ipad 3 in the office only by putting them next to each other is it possible to be certain which is which, and this had higher pixel density than the 2. On their own you just can't be sure- on a two the corners of the apps are a little fuzzy when your head is 4 inches away.

            To put it in my context; the ipad mini wins my vote for design and battery life, the nexus on price and the linds of software i can run on android. I'm very much undecided if the mini's pluses warrant the cost and ios.
          • Sorry google

            I meant tegra 3 quad... Not snapdragon; i was writing earlier about the nexus 4's awesome price-features balance and entered the wrong one out of habit.
          • But what was the breakdown...

            between the iPad Mini and the 4th gen iPad? It was a million each day for both, not each.
    • Wow

      Love my job, since I've been bringing in $5600… I sit at home, music playing while I work in front of my new iMac that I got now that I'm making it online(Click on menu Home)
    • I have to disagree with DDERSSS.

      Thing is, this is a brand new product, that Apple could have released anytime they wanted. If the technology wasn't in place, and the product not perfect, Apple should have waited to release it!

      Instead, they hashed together a second rate product using outdated technology they already had, and the result is, quite frankly, not worth buying.
      • Apple Caught between A Rock and a Hard Place

        Apple is caught between a rock and a hard place.. if it held back for better technolgy, the 7" tablet market will be moving away from Apple, yet, if it launch now, which it did, it could not offer a new product with better technology and yet still remain price competitive.
        • So what's more important to Apple?

          I guess the answer is profit even though they are making more money than anyone. If it was about the end user and delivering a quality product without severe compromises, they would have waited.

          However, my biggest question is why 7.9"? If they were right around 7", they would have a much better product because the PPI would be higher and the device would be hugely more portable and easier to hold with one hand. All of which are criticisms of the iPad Mini.

          The iPad Mini in it's current form is a clear reactionary short sighted response to the small form factor tablet market. Apple has shot itself in the foot.
    • Who's ignorant?

      You give a good summary of the technical challenges and compromises of the iPad Mini screen but utterly fail to back up your opening statement of why Apple is a shining beacon of hope and joy in the universe.

      Personally I agree with the author. I like their products generally but I'll never believe they are anything other than one of the most greedy of companies. Apple had to re-engineer their products with an updated, smaller connector. I get it. Could they have designed it around Micro-USB? Yes, but they make a killing from selling proprietary connectors and licensing it to 3rd parties and what's the incentive for them to cut their customers a break when they know they can bilk you?

      And don't get me started on suing the competition over innovating better, more compelling products.
      • USB was never the answer

        Check out the different types of mini and micro USB connectors available -- which one should Apple have chosen. What about pure digital signals?

        Apple's connector -- which is capable of real-time pin-assignment without having to worry about plug orientation -- had to satisfy Apple as to what it can achieve now and in the future.

        I am the "go-to" person for our very large extended family for all things digital, including phones and cameras. Apart from the proprietary cables, I have USB cables with at least 5 different connectors.

        I'm just glad that over 80% of family are now migrating to iOS devices...
        • chips in cables

          give me a technical justification for ICs in a cable for a phone or a tablet.
          • Why should anybody?

            Nobody, least of all Apple, needs to justify anything to you.
      • M USB

        Micro USB can charge at 9V tops, whereas the Lightening connector charges above 12V. Makes a big diff in charge times. Lightening is also much more break resistant over long term use.
        pk de cville
    • Tch Tch Tch

      Just because you don't agree - Apple FanBoy Alert!
    • "You are ignorant"

      Apparently DDRESSS is not aware of the Options that were available to Apple but that their inferior technology co uh lx not support, like the 1280 x 800 in a 7 inch form factor used by other tablet manufacturers (yes, there are others)
      The problem is that unlike Android, iOS cannot arbitrarily scale to any screen size, so Apple's tablets have to use either 1024 x 768 or 2048 x 1536. The better screen was of course available but would not have allowed Apple the Margins it has been accustomed to, so they did the next best thing, protect their margins at the expense of quality.
      • 1280x720/800 is nothing like Retina resolution, so it would not make ...

        ... principal difference if Apple was using such screens. But actual Retina resolution has three time more dots per square inch, so it dramatically influences power consumption unless it is either FFS (too pricey) or IGZO (good price, but low production volume yet) technologies.